Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Naming is Everything

A project manager and very good friend of mine once called and asked to speak with me, urgently, and privately. I was somewhat intrigued and suspicious. She wasn’t given to flights of fancy, so I couldn’t imagine the issue.

She enters my office, closes the door, and says, “I have a problem with my team. They’ve been in a conference room all morning arguing. People all over the floor are beginning to complain, and I don’t know what to do.”

Why me, I wonder? Of all the resources she could have selected, why did this person seek my advice? Was it my wisdom? Interpersonal relationship skills? Was it my over-sized jar of pretzels? Then it hit me. She was probably aware that I’d been in a number of conference rooms in my day having, shall we say, enthusiastic verbal parlays with my office cohabitants.

Her staff was arguing and she knew that I had been in, if not instigated such venues before. Great, my reputations doth proceed me.

I replied, “What, may I ask are they arguing about?” Sheepishly, with a hint of embarrassment, she replied, “Naming conventions.” “Oh, this is easy”, I said. “Get them some pizza and close the door. Do nothing to inhibit the conversation.”

Johnny Carson once said, timing is everything, and maybe in comedy it is. But in the IT space, nothing trumps naming conventions, naming patterns, or rules. What you call a thing is the single most important element of understanding. Get it wrong, and you’ll sentence yourself and generations of descendant support teams to ambiguity hell.

I’m in a conversation right now about service level agreements, recovery time objectives, and recover point objectives - all vitally important topics and concepts in the business continuity and disaster recovery space. Some teams like to use terms like continuous, high, moderate, and none; while others like to use granularity based on time and numbers, less the 4 hours, more than 48, and so forth.

Still others want to use color coded labels such as gold, silver, and tin as these leverage visceral and visual imagery that are easily assimilated and yet allow for definitional changes as technology morphs over time.

It’s not easy, and we’re not through the process, but I’m in no hurry. Naming is everything, and if we get this wrong we’ll be fighting the uphill climb of training and explaining, when we could have exploited intuition and instinct.

Send pizza. I’ll be in a conference room for the duration looking to find a golden answer in 24 to 48 hours with highly consumable labels.

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